My name is Crystal Cheatham and I’m from Cochranville, Pennsylvania. I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian community which is Seventh-day Adventism. And if you know anything about Seventh-day Adventism, you know it’s a lot like being Southern Baptist with added mix of Judaism. My father passed away when I was 15 and it was devastating for my entire family but I had a really close relationship with him because I was pretty much a Daddy’s Girl. We would do everything together, everything together. So when he passed away I decided that I wanted to know what he found in faith and religion because he was a devout Seventh Day Adventist. When I graduated and went to Andrew’s University that’s what I wanted to follow. I wanted to figure out how I could still be a part of my family’s tradition without being a minister. So I started to sing in the professional choir and I toured worldwide and I began to sing at the main stage at the university. As I was graduating, I was invited to sing at this giant youth conference, it’s called Pathfinders which is the same as Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts of America, where everybody arrives with their uniforms and the badges that they’ve earned. And from that experience, I met a youth pastor and he kind of became my mentor because we lived pretty close to each other. He had a mega church in DC, I lived in Cochranville, Pennsylvania, which is pretty much an hour and a half commute between the two and he really liked what I was doing with the youth and he really liked that I had recorded music. And he said, “Crystal, I want you to come and sing at my church.” And I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is so cool, I can’t believe that maybe there is something outside of school for me to do in music and maybe ministry.” So I felt kind of called to this. I end up driving back to my mother’s house and meanwhile I’m corresponding with Pastor Manny and I realized it’s not okay if I just go because I think that it’s time for me to actually start coming out. And so I decided to tell Pastor Manny who I was because I really felt called to minister in this way. And I told the pastor that, I emailed him and I was like, “I really want you to know this is who I am. I identify as an out lesbian.” And he emailed me back quicker than I thought he would: “This is so great. When you come to my church I want you to not only give a concert, but I want you to speak.” I was blown away. This was not the response I thought, I thought this was one of those trials where you’re kind of going to be spurned and thrown to the wayside so my excitement built. There were two weeks before I got there so once I arrived, I arrive with all my gear, there’s not enough time for a sound check, and right before I get on stage, the pastor said, “You know what, just sing. Someone else has prepared a message and they’re going to speak to the youth.” And there were like 200 kids there. So I thought maybe it was because I didn’t have a sound check or what’s going on, so I get on the stage and I sing my songs and I’m kind of distracted and when I get off I ask him, “Why didn’t you want me to speak?” And he pulls me into the lobby or the foyer and says, “Well, you know Crystal, it’s because you are a practicing homosexual. This is why. And in the Adventist Church practicing homosexuals can’t be leaders and it’s not even okay for you to be on the stage.” And in that moment I started to cry. It’s worse than anything because he wasn’t just saying “no” to my music, he was saying “no” to me. He was saying “no” to my entire career, everything I had built up, he was saying, “Yes, it’s okay that you have the voice, that you have the skill to play the guitar, that you have the skill to lead a band, that you have the skill to put words together to speak and to write and to perform and to lead but all of these are for nothing because you’re attracted to women and you’re going to act on that.” That’s the reason my world fell apart, why I had to protect myself and pull away from Adventism. And my next step was to learn as much as I could about the queer community. But if I was to fully integrate myself into queer culture and understand my identity as a lesbian, I was going to have to divorce myself from the sanctity of the Sabbath. And it was hard for me to keep in touch with the spiritual side of it but ultimately what I walked away with was, there’s a difference between religion and spirituality and faith, and I’m a very spiritual person and a very faithful person but the religion is not something I can carry with me. I represent somebody who does claim both those identities and lives a very happy and fulfilling life. I believe that my God loves me and I’m Christian but I’m also a very out lesbian. So I think my story is important because there’s a lot of people like me, there’s a lot of people like me still really far back in the closet and they need to know that there’s light that they can step into and not be ashamed of themselves.